Yes, You Can Feel Fulfilled Even If You Haven't Finished All the Things
May 8, 2018
As a writer, I’m never satisfied until a story is written, proofread, fact-checked, published, and officially out of my hands. But that whole process? It can take weeks or even months. And, once it’s done, I only leave about a millisecond to feel proud before diving into my next assignment.
Basically, I’m on a “hurry up, wait, repeat” cycle when it comes to feeling accomplished—but it occurred to me recently that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Fulfillment—that warm sense of satisfaction and pride—isn’t dependent on a finished draft, an editor’s approval, or even a published piece on a newsstand. Once you start looking for fulfillment instead of waiting for it, you realize it's available every step of the way.
Once you start looking for fulfillment instead of waiting for it, you realize it's available every step of the way.
Instead of waiting until I see my byline in print or checked off the last task on my to-do list, I’ve started bringing out the self-high-fives for just about everything I do.
The parts of my day that feel irrelevant—the head-clearing yoga class, making a batch of granola between phone calls—are actually necessary steps to accomplishing my goals. Without these moments, I wouldn’t have the energy or peace of mind to even get a word on the page. So, why shouldn't I give myself props for making them happen?
I’ve even started giving myself a pat on the back for things I haven’t fully wrapped up. I’m reframing what I previously saw as lost time, or false starts, as learning opportunities. I’ve accepted that it’s OK to waste a little time and leave tasks incomplete in the name of growth. That doesn’t make me worthless or inefficient—it makes me human.
I’ve accepted that it’s OK to waste a little time and leave tasks incomplete in the name of growth.
Shifting my focus from the final product to the successes along the way makes the journey better—and I've seen it improve my end result when I do get there.
Whether you're a fellow writer, pursuing another hustle, or even just someone with a to-do list that needs finishing (looking at you, laundry), you can find ways to feel fulfilled along the way, too.
Below, four ways you can get started:
1. Get All Dump-the-Gatorade-Cooler-Excited For Your Small Wins
Next time you take on a mindless task, ask yourself why you’re doing it.
Say you’re heading out to pick up groceries: Think, what’s the point of stocking up for the week? What does having healthy foods in my fridge do for me? Maybe it’ll help you save on takeout and delivery fees. Perhaps those fruits and veggies will fuel your next great idea. Contextualizing your day-to-day activities can help them feel more important.
Contextualizing your day-to-day activities can help them feel more important.
Once you’ve finished a small task, give yourself props for getting it out of the way.
According to psychologist and brain-training expert Leslie Sherlin, taking a moment to bask in finishing something—big or small—can release a feel-good dose of the chemical serotonin.
“Telling ourselves that we’re done creates not only an emotional reaction but a physiological response as well,” she told Fast Company. “As you start to take steps and you make a ‘done’ moment, you’re increasing your confidence and your momentum towards moving forward.”
2. Clap For Your Mistakes
Recast the way you look at misses and mistakes.
Had a long phone call that went nowhere? View it is as a chance to set better boundaries. Spent the weekend in bed, watching Netflix with takeout dumplings? You probably needed the break. Seeing the value in all experiences—“good” or “bad”—can help the day-to-day feel more satisfying.
Seeing the value in all experiences—“good” or “bad”—can help the day-to-day feel more satisfying.
Take it from J.K. Rowling: “Failure is so important,” she said in an interview with Oprah. “We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success.”
3. Commit to Your Tasks
It’s tempting to pull back when you don’t feel fulfilled, either at work or in your personal life. But detaching yourself from what you’re doing only puts fulfillment further out of reach—it’s impossible to be proud of your accomplishments if you don’t feel anything toward them to begin with. Plus, resentment often grows in the space you put between yourself and your work.
Try committing to whatever you’ve taken on, and accept that commitment means you’ll feel the ups and the downs. If that feels impossible, it may be time to reassess what you’re doing.
Accept that commitment means you’ll feel the ups and the downs.
As Steve Jobs said in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech, "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it."
4. Own Where You’ve Grown
Grab a pen, some paper, and get to writing. It’s easy to forget about day-to-day successes, so try jotting down moments in which you felt proud, or inspired, or clear-headed about your work and future.
Getting it down on paper can help that feeling of accomplishment stick and serve as a reminder of what to do in the future.
“It's easy to become obsessed with pushing the ball forward as a Type-A personality and end up a perfectionist who is always future-focused," he said in a journaling-focused episode of his podcast. "The five-minute journal… allows me to not only get more done during the day but to also feel better throughout the entire day, to be a happier person, to be a more content person—which is not something that comes naturally to me.”
Whether it’s through journaling or a mental shift, try bringing those pat-on-the-back moments out a little earlier. It's time to make fulfillment a habit, not a once-a-month moment.